November 20, 2015

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

May the Spirit of God continue to move us in ecumenical efforts

Ecumenism. This is the movement among Christians for unity. The hope is to bring about a single Church.

The reactions to this hope are varied. I will explore three in this column this month: excitement, concern and indifference.

Those who support ecumenism with excitement do so for a number of reasons.

They want to repair the broken “body of Christ.” They want to fulfill Christ’s longing that “all may be one” (Jn 17:21). For them, this is a matter of healing the historical sins and the historical memories. It is a matter of rightness, or justice. For them, they want to see the truth of the creed—one, holy, catholic and apostolic—visibly lived.

And they are passionate about seeing the goodness of others who believe in Christ. They want to grasp and understand the faith and religious expression of other believers even as they share their own. They aim to find commonality. But more so, they seek to work together in dialogue to arrive at understanding, which can lead to shared doctrine, shared definition of church and sacraments, and shared definition of ordained ministry. And their passion will not be diminished by the slowness of progress.

Those who are concerned about ecumenism—some even to the point of opposition—are so for a number of reasons.

Some fear the diluting of doctrine and dogma. They state that a rush to unity without thoughtful consideration of Scripture and tradition could blur or water down unchangeable truths.

Some oppose any form of inter-church prayer or worship for fear of unwittingly denying their faith through prayer, which is partially inaccurate or in opposition to that belief.

A few decry ecumenism because they refuse to engage with “false religions.” They often hold an uninformed and prejudiced view of other denominations. They cannot be tainted by the “other.”

A small number of Catholics believe that unity will only come about when the “reformers” see the error of their ways and become Roman Catholic in all things. Any other form of “ecumenical” goal toward unity ignores what “they did,” and will never return them to the “truth.”

Finally, indifference to ecumenical efforts does exist.

Some see all of the effort and time spent in dialogue to be a fool’s errand they would rather avoid.

Others believe that unity is just not possible due to the many differences.

Some are so caught up in their own churches’ struggles and daily tasks of ministry that they just do not value the time and energy required to get involved with other faith communities in any way.

These efforts at outlining reactions to hope for unity are not exhaustive. These are meant to be thought-starters, points for deeper reflection for us all.

We may find ourselves vacillating from excitement to concern to indifference. I know that at times I sense that in myself, especially when one of the knottier issues is before me as I read or listen.

An old friend once taught me that to change an attitude, one must change a behavior. I know this to be true for the work of ecumenism, especially in my moments of confusion or vacillation.

The ecumenical process is going to require more than these 50 years since the Second Vatican Council. The progress made thus far is remarkable. So much more needs to be done.

It is good to remember that hope extends beyond one’s own lifetime, that God’s time in the Spirit moves forward through our efforts—at times in spite of our efforts!

May we sense the Spirit of God moving through our time into a future where “all may be one.”
 

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also dean of the Terre Haute deanery and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute. E-mail him at rginther@saintpat.org)

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